The scratch of colored pencil on paper was the only sound in
Grandmother Amaryllis’s conservatory. Xander sat beside one the massive pillars that framed the center of the indoor garden. The moonlight shone through the glass ceiling on hundreds of exotic night blooming flowers from around the world, but he only had eyes for the Arctia caja
he was sketching.
Xander stopped to examine the shadow of
the moth’s wing as it sat on the flower of a sprawling Queen of Night plant. He
pulled out 5 different hues of purple, appraising each until he settled on one
and blended it into the matching shadow in his sketchbook. Satisfied, he flipped to an earlier attempt to draw the same moth, before Mother noticed his
interest and gifted him with the professional quality colored pencils. There
was no doubt; he had grown better, just as she said he would.
He started contemplating shades of cream when a howl
shattered the peace of the conservatory.
, he thought,
gritting his teeth. She and Grandmother must have returned from their outing. There
went any chance of finishing this properly – unless Grandmother distracted her
with something. Maybe she would. He took a deep breath, went back to his
drawing when a second howl knifed through his ears, followed by an agitated
Her dark eyes found Xander’s. “I cannot believe how
ungrateful your sister is!”
Xander didn’t say a word. He wondered why adults said these
things. It’s not as if Emma hatched from a cocoon last night and the whole
family hadn’t endured a century’s worth of her tantrums, her whining, or her
leaving half eaten body parts lying about.
Grandmother Amaryllis cleared her throat, letting Xander
know a response was expected. “What has she done now?” he asked.
“Well, I had such a lovely evening planned. We went to her
favorite café. I bought her a doll.”
“And then when we arrived at the dentist’s office, she just
about embarrassed me completely!” Grandmother said.
“Yes,” she said. “I know she can be difficult there, so I
just didn’t tell her until we arrived.”
“Um, Grandmother, are you sure that was wise?”
She gave him a withering look. “What was I supposed to do?
Emma tantrums even when it’s a normal appointment. I could only imagine what
she would have done if she knew she was getting braces. Thank goodness I told
them to have extra sedative on hand. I had to pay extra for the sharpshooters,
but it was worth it. She was out for the whole thing.”
Another howl interrupted Grandmother Amaryllis.
“But she’s awake now,” Xander said.
“She’ll thank me later – I told her that – when she has a
nice smile like yours she’ll be properly grateful.”
Xander started packing away his art supplies.
“Xander, darling, if you are leaving could you find Bradford
and have him bring me a restorative? I am simply worn out. Tell him to bring it
to my sitting room”
Xander nodded and then went to look for his sister.
She was slumped, sobbing by the statue of Vlad the Impaler
in the foyer. Xander reached out and touched her shoulder. She drew away
“Braces, Xander, braces! They’re awful and they hurt and how
am ever going to bite anything again? I’ll have to have blood in a cup, like
some kind of toddler and I’ll never strike fear into anything like that!” She
“Emma, take it easy. Yeah, Grandmother should have told you
first but –“
“But what? She just wants me to be just like you, and I’m
not. I’m me. And I don’t want braces!”
“There’s nothing in the world, not braces, not even Grandmother
that can stop you from being you. You’re kind of annoying like that. And you’ll
be able to hunt again. There’s a bit of a trick to getting the blood out, and
it will be messy at first, but I’ll show you how. We can go hunting tonight
even,” Xander said.
“Will it be terribly messy?” she asked, sitting up. “With
blood everywhere? And screaming?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes," he said. "It will take a little longer so there will be a lot of
mess and screaming.”
“No, first I have to tell Bradford to get Grandmother a
snack. Then I am I going to finish up my drawing.”
Emma crossed her arms. “Weird bug pictures again?” she said.
“Moths. And they’re not weird they’re awesome. And no
complaining while I finish or we won’t go anywhere.”
“I guess that’s fair. As long as you don’t to talk me about them until I fall asleep. No more naps tonight.”
“Actually, I was going to talk to them and you won’t fall
asleep, you’ll learn something,” he said, offering his hand to help her stand
up. “Did you know some of the moths in the Saturniidae family are considered
pests, while some make silk? One genus is poison to the touch.”